Of all the experiences of suffering people in the last century endured, the death camp represents one of the worst. To be separated from family members, including children, after days-long train rides in cattle cars, to be beaten by fellow-countrymen and fellow Jews given leadership in return for their own survival, to endure bitter cold temperatures with rags for clothes and ill-fitting shoes; these experiences force us to cry out, “Why all this suffering?”
These experiences also find voice in Job’s question, “Why does [God] give light to the sufferer and life to the bitter in spirit?” (3:20) When life means nothing but suffering, what’s the point? Some take this question to its logical conclusion to end their life.
As a Jewish psychiatirst-prisoner himself, Viktor Frankl observed the men around him and reflected on their loss of hope. The camp doctor shared with him that the rate of death increased between Christmas 1944 and New Year’s Day 1945. “In his opinion,” Frankl writes, “the explanation did not lie in the harder working conditions or the deterioration of our food supplies or a change of weather or new epidemics. It was simply that the majority of prisoners lived with the naive hope that they would be home again by Christmas.” (Man’s Search for Meaning, 97). As soon as the prisoner realized his futility of his hope, his body’t resistance to disease, especially Typhus fever, weakened. The prisoner died.
As long as Job could protest God’s unjust treatment, challenge God to a face-to-face confrontation, and anticipate a response, he had reason to live. Even with suffering, therefore, if we have a reason, a person can live.
Are you going through a lot of seemingly meaningless suffering right now? Have you experienced a recent tragedy, such as a sudden death of a loved one, a business failure, or a scary medical diagnosis? What keeps you living?